Tête à tête with Carrie Brownstein

California is the inspiration of our Spring/Summer collections and Carol and Humberto’s home state. We interviewed some inspiring friends to define the essence of the golden state, and Carrie Brownstein was definitely one of them!  Carrie became known as a guitarist and vocalist in band Sleater-Kinney in the early 90s and she is currently co-starring with Fred Armisen in Portlandia. Today, she shares her thoughts on the West Coast culture and music scene. 

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KENZINE: You were born in Seattle, according to you, what were the cultural specificities that made the West Coast the birthplace of American counter cultures?

Carrie Brownstein: I think the West Coast has always embodied an outlier status. Even from a migratory standpoint, the west is about pioneering, reaching the edge. But what's next, what do you do when you reach the ocean? You have to find new edges, break new boundaries. In the rear view mirror is the rest of America; on the West Coast you have the luxury of looking back, borrowing or being inspired from what is behind you, but also fucking up or messing with what didn't. It's about innovation. There is also a landscape to internalize out West: rugged, vast, the desert and the forest, vibrant colors and oppressive grays. If you combine all of that external variety into a person, someone sensitive like an artist or a scientist, what you get are freaks and freakiness, and I mean that in the best way possible.


K: How would you describe the differences between Northern and Southern California?

C.B.: Southern California is defined by exposure and Northern California by concealment. So, in SC you get people either basking in or aiming for exposure, you get art, music and novels that deal with the effects of over-exposure, what it feels like to live in a place that is a signifier as much as it is a geographical locale. But also, artistically and communally, there is the urge to create shelter, to carve out pockets of stillness and quiet. When I think of that I think of surfing or Summer goths, or punk rock, or underground restaurant culture, or skateboarders, people putting these figurative umbrellas up over the spotlight, shadows to live in and be inspired by. And up in NC, the mainstream grew out from the fringe. Those who were hiding out were found, were accepted: queer culture, pot-growers, radical thinkers, tech nerds. So, up north the trajectory is an outward journey, while in the southern part of the state it's a journey inward. What a weird, cool tension. 


K: Another important theme for KENZO this season is overfishing and that leads us to the important causes to fight for... In the 90s, you plaid a big part in the riot grrrl movement which started in Olympia, can you tell our readers (especially the youngest) what it was about and which values you were fighting for, as women but also as musicians?

C.B.: I think women wanted to carve out a space for ourselves in the music scene. At the time, the punk and indie scenes were very male-dominated, there weren't as many women playing in bands, there was a very distinct and gendered line in music. What defined music and the notion of a "rock star" was maleness. To be a musician who happened to be female was to not just be outside the scene, but to be outside of music itself, as if music wasn't intrinsic to being female, as if it wasn't innately owned. So, a lot of women felt like they had to claim music, and to do so, they had to rewrite the rules. Bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile sang about the experiences of femaleness, which were of course the only experiences they knew. And they did it in a way that was bold and fearless, they really galvanized the narrative, inserted their own stories and perspectives into the lineage of songwriting. They cleared a space so that subsequent bands could sing about whatever they wanted, could dismantle the notion of music or sounds as belonging to a single gender. My band, Sleater-Kinney, came along at the tail end of this. And I am so grateful that the space had already been fought for. We really just wanted to be considered a band, free to define ourselves however we wanted.


K: How did you make the music scene or even the world change?

C.B.: Hard to tell. All I know is that I look around and see so much amazing art--from fashion to film to music--that seems to draw from some of those 90s and 2000s musical moments, that sort of unequivocal line-in-the-sand feel, everything at stake. Except what's wonderful now is the aim for accessibility. So much about having to fight for something is that you greet the world with a punch, with a fist. You're on the defense, having to define who you are by everything you're not. Whereas now there is a sense that the strength is representational, there is an inviting quality to art right now, a sense of participation and generosity.


K: In 2009, you worked on the soundtrack of the documentary film ‘!Women Art Revolution’ by Lynn Hershman Leeson, do you still consider yourself as a riot grrrl or a feminist?

C.B.: I consider myself a feminist. And I just read these lines in the new Lorrie Moore short story collection that really sum up how I feel about feminism: "As a feminist you mustn't blame the other woman," a neighbor told her. "As a feminist I request that you no longer speak to me," Kit replied. Basically, I'm not interested in using feminism as a way of making other women feel bad. And I like the idea that men can be feminists. They can. It's merely one lens of many through which to view the world and phenomena.

 

K: The fourth season of Portlandia has an impressive list of guests, could you reveal us something fun that happened to any of them when you were shooting?

C.B.: Steve Buscemi and I were filming the end of a very epic sketch called 'Celery'. We play husband and wife who are on a yacht, sailing off into the sunset (well, more like sailing off on a river under the grey Portland skies). We went about 100 yards and hit a sandbar and we both nearly went overboard. I wouldn't exactly say we make the show very safe for our guest stars, but we do make it fun. Steve had a great time, it's always an honor to work with him, he' so brilliant. We really do feel lucky that so many musicians and actors want to come up to Portland and work with us.

 

Carrie wears our K jacket and a blouse from the resort collection.